Random rumblings about Adobe CS5

Before shelling out for cool tools you may never use, make sure that Adobe has fixed the features you do.

You've had months now of teasers and gee-whiz video demos of new features and technologies that Adobe Systems is planning to debut in Creative Suite 5, and there'll be boatloads of people telling you about them over the next 30 days before it ships (here's our summary of Photoshop's new features). But for some of us, the things that Adobe hasn't fixed, and which don't merit viral videos, remain sources of immense frustration.

At the top of my list are the complete lack of upgrade and migration tools. Unlike most applications, Adobe doesn't even provide the option to simply upgrade an existing installation. I know a lot of people need to keep multiple versions of the apps on their systems--I'm one of them--but there are a lot of people who don't, and Adobe's responsible for an amazing amount of hard disk clutter. Furthermore, transferring your settings, presets, Dreamweaver Snippets, Bridge Favorites, and so on is a major pain.

In Photoshop, for example, you have to remember to export styles, Actions, tool presets and other settings before you can manually import them into the newer version, or even into a different installation of the same version. With customization pervading every aspect of the applications, doing this individually for each type of tool is tedious at best. And some things, such as Photoshop's New Document presets and Bridge's Favorites can't be transferred at all as far as I can tell. I expect more from a product that costs almost $700; at the price of the Master Collection, with the concomitant increase in the number of settings you'll want to transfer, well, I'd be pretty annoyed. (We won't really know if the company has fixed the poorly designed updater until the suite's been out for a bit.)

I stress this because there's still time for Adobe to--at the very least--write some scripts to handle settings migration before the product ships. My last communication from them on the subject said that migration tools plans were still "in flux," and I urge everyone who's considering the upgrade to put some pressure on the company to do something about it. It's tempting to consider the upgrade a one-time operation, but what if you get a new system and need to reinstall or run multiple concurrent installations? If none of that matters to you, then just consider this a friendly reminder to export and back up all you custom settings in preparation for upgrading.

And speaking of presets, let's talk about the inability edit many types of presets in Photoshop. For example, if you've got a preset rectangular selection of 30 pixels by 30 pixels, you can't change it to 40 x 40; you have to create a new one. (On the upside, it looks like CS5 has the ability to rename presets. Yippee!) Sounds trivial on something that small, but extend it out to every tool, styles, brushes and so on, and it's just a level of interface rigidity that's like a pebble in my shoe. And for those of us who work with a lot of text, forget about test styles--that feature got left on the programming-room floor.

From the be-careful-what-you-wish-for department comes the new drag-and-drop behavior between Bridge and Photoshop. In previous versions, dragging from Bridge to Photoshop just opened up the image. Now, if you drag into an existing image it "places" the image as a new Smart Object; dragging it to the tab bar opens the image. This is a feature I wanted; now that I've got it, I keep forgetting the new behavior and having to repeatedly redrag the files. There are several interface changes that, for better or worse, at least call for stopping and turning off some new defaults, like the Scrubby Zoom. Of course, there's some behaviors that Adobe finally fixed. Now, when you do a Close All on multiple files, the Save Changes dialog lets you vote Yes or No for all the files (rather than having to click each dialog individually). And Bridge's propensity to disappear Favorites to disconnected drives has disappeared itself--it works right now.

Consider this my opinion as a prosaic Photoshop user who really has no need for most of the whizzy new features rolling out in the upgrade (and who really can't tell if there's any performance improvement until the code is final); I know that beta testers have enjoyed them, but beta testers tend to be a self-selected group more likely to be create reasons to try to integrate new tools into their workflows. For me working with the beta of CS5 felt a lot like working with CS4. When the product ships in a month, I'll be able to report on its performance and whether features like Content-Aware Fill, Puppet Warp and the new paint capabilities still merit their "gee, whiz" or just an "oh, gee."

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